10/12/2014 - 10/13/2014
We crossed the Montenegro border as uneventfully as we had entered Bosnia three days earlier, except that we had a welcoming committee of cattle at the first gas station we came to.
We reached the Bay of Kotor just a few minutes after crossing the border. This was one of the more strangely-shaped bodies of water that I've encountered. Its appearance on the map reminds me of a coronal section of the human brain, with the bodies of water being the ventricles.
This cerebral bay was lined with massifs of the Dinaric Alps that crowded the small coastal towns against the water's edge.
Once we were driving along the water I thought it wouldn't be long before we reached Kotor, but in fact it took us another hour to traverse the winding road to the far western end of the bay. Our Airbnb host had told us there was parking right outside the apartment, but I soon realized she was referring to the small parking lot across the road from the walled city. Within the walls there was no automobile access. I located the main gate into the city and set out to find our hosts, but was far from surprised when the street number they had given me didn't seem to exist. For our trip, that was par for the course. My Croatian SIM card didn't seem to be functional in Montenegro either, so I couldn't call. The closest business was an incongruous Chinese restaurant that didn't seem to have any Asian staff. A waiter at the front door was very friendly and helpful. Interestingly, he thought I was Slovenian because I hadn't bothered to relearn my few travel phrases in Croatian. Eventually we figured out where I was supposed to go and I found our host, a very sweet Montenegrin with her own small children. Our Kotor location can be seen by clicking on the link below.
We ended up having dinner at the Chinese restaurant since we were all somewhat sick of Croatian style seafood, but the quality reflected the lack of a true Asian influence. We learned that there wasn't even a Chinese person among the kitchen staff. We took a quick evening stroll around Kotor, which had its own unique charm but was in many ways reminiscent of the other walled cities we had visited.
The next morning we explored Kotor by day, which allowed us to see the beautiful old buildings of the town against the backdrop of the massive cliffs behind the city.
From one open square we could see the old ramparts extending up the mountain as well as the Church of our Lady of Remedy far above us. The Lonely Planet recommended a hike up the ramparts to the Church and the top of the mountain for amazing views of the city and Kotor Bay, but with the kids it wasn't going to be possible.
The old town was busy with tourists in some areas, yet it was easy to find beautiful, quiet squares and streets away from the center.
We eventually found the River Gate at the northern end of the city that led to a bridge over the river Skurda. There was a movie shoot just inside the gate being carried out by a local production company.
We returned back through the main gate where we found the daily produce market just outside the city walls. There was a wide selection of cheeses, fruits, and vegetables and we bought enough to keep our bellies full on the ferry back to Italy that night. On the drive back towards Croatia, we saw the tiny bay islands of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks. The latter is a man-made island created centuries ago by sinking ships loaded with rocks in the bay. In the 17th century a Catholic church was built on the island. We didn't have time to take one of the boats out to the islands and so we had to content ourselves with pictures.
Further down the road we were in for a real treat. We saw signs for a restaurant called Catovica Mlini that seemed like it might be a good bet and turned off the coastal road for lunch. We followed the signs for about a mile and came to a small empty parking lot. I had a sinking feeling that the place would turn out to be closed Mondays, but I found a traditionally dressed waiter inside who said they were indeed open. The restaurant occupied an old flour mill, and the owners had preserved the small streams that powered the mill and converted them into duck ponds. There were fruit trees, bridges, and grassy lawns everywhere. In the background were the Dinarides as imposing as ever.
The setting was one of the most beautiful I've ever eaten in, and the food was delicious and well-prepared. The Montenegrin beer Niksicko was also excellent. The only meal that came close to being as good as this one was the seafood lunch by the beach in Portuondo three weeks earlier. Later we discovered that Catovica Mlini was one of the best known restaurants in all of Montenegro, and we had the good fortune to come across it by chance just when our stomachs were growling.
We got back to Dubrovnik with a few hours to spare before our ferry back to Italy, so we decided to spend some time at the Trsteno Arboretum about fifteen minutes out of town. The Arboretum occupies the former estate of the Gozze noble family and contains a goldfish-stocked fountain and an aqueduct along with many beautiful gardens. Cleo had a blast feeding breadsticks to the goldfish, and it appeared they enjoyed themselves tremendously as well.
After the Arboretum there was time for one last walk in the square outside the Pile Gate, and then dinner at Defne in the old town which had a beautiful terrace but average food.
Once dinner was finished, it was time to bid farewell to Dubrovnik and Croatia. We drove to the ferry dock and patiently awaited our turn to get on to the night ferry to Bari. We were only three days away from completing this great circle around the Adriatic. We had wisely booked a private cabin which was well worth the added expense as we didn't have to worry about the kids disturbing other people trying to sleep. There was a little play area next to the dining room and Mei Ling actually found another Chinese family for us to hang out with until the kids were exhausted.